Lethal airstrike is Moscow’s ‘warning shot’ to Turkey

Smoke rises from the bombardment by the Syrian regime forces on Al-Bara, in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib. The region is the focus of a growing dispute between Turkey and Russia. (AFP)
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Updated 28 October 2020

Lethal airstrike is Moscow’s ‘warning shot’ to Turkey

  • Militia targeted in Syria’s Idlib over Turkish support for extremism, analysts say

ANKARA: A Russian airstrike on a rebel training camp in the Syrian province of Idlib is Moscow’s “warning shot” to Turkey over its support for extremism, political analysts say.

The airstrike on Monday — one of the deadliest in nine years of conflict in Syria — killed almost 80 Turkish-backed militia fighters in the Faylaq Al-Sham rebel camp, near Syria’s border with Turkey.

In the wake of the attack debate raged about the message Moscow wanted to send Ankara by targeting Turkey’s major proxy in the war-torn country.

The attack is considered as a serious breach of Moscow’s cease-fire agreement with Ankara.

Idlib is the focus of a growing dispute between Turkey and Russia, with the former supporting the rebel forces, while Moscow backs the Assad government’s offensive to retake the province.

The rebels, ideologically close to the Muslim Brotherhood, have helped Turkish forces secure observation points in contested zones. Militia fighters also make up the largest armed group backed by Ankara.

Observers say the airstrike will lead to an escalation in tensions between Russia and Turkey.

The two countries have already halted joint patrols along Idlib’s key M4 highway despite Turkey’s decision to test-fire its controversial Russian S-400 air defense system, ignoring warnings from Washington.

Meanwhile, Turkey has stepped up reinforcements at military posts along the M4 to strengthen its foothold in the region.

According to Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, Russia is increasingly concerned that Turkey might ramp up support for rebel groups and organizations that Moscow views as extremists.

The latest Russian airstrike shows Moscow is willing to push Turkey on its support for extremism, he told Arab News.

However, Orwa Ajjoub, affiliated researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden, said the airstrike on the Turkish-backed rebels should be seen as part of a wider conflict between the two nations.

“Ankara and Moscow have failed three times to maintain a permanent cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh, where the two actors are supporting the opposing states of Azerbaijan and Armenia, respectively,” he told Arab News.

“In Libya, the UN-brokered ‘permanent cease-fire’ between Gen. Khalifa Hafter’s forces supported by Russia, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and the government of National Accord supported by Turkey and Qatar, was also met with suspicion and unease since both Ankara and Moscow will have to withdraw their mercenaries from the country before securing a decisive win,” Ajjoub said.

Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is yet to make any statement on the Russian attack.

During a visit to Athens on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented on the two countries’ relationship, saying: “We have good relations with Turkey, but it is not without problems.”

However, Ajjoub believes Russia is hoping to “reshuffle the cards” in Syria in an attempt to pressure Turkey’s stances on both Nagorno-Karabakh and Libya.

“Russia’s decision to carry out an attack on Ankara’s primary proxy is designed to change the status quo in Idlib,” he said.

Since the March 5 cease-fire between Turkey and Russia, Idlib has enjoyed relative calm interrupted by attacks mainly by the Syrian regime.

The attacks are aimed at “redrawing the map of northwest Syria,” Ajjoub added.

“Turkey, which has already shown some flexibility by withdrawing its forces from the Morek military post, does not seem interested in offering more concessions to Russia.

“By carrying out such a significant attack on Faylaq Al-Sham’s headquarters, Russia is reminding Turkey that achieving relative success in a multi-front conflict, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh and Libya, can be undermined in Syria, where Moscow’s military might is undisputed.”

Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, spoke with Lavrov by telephone on Tuesday, with Russian airstrikes topping the Turkish agenda.

UN Security Council to vote on extending Syria cross-border aid

Updated 07 July 2022

UN Security Council to vote on extending Syria cross-border aid

  • The UN resolution permitting aid deliveries across the Syrian-Turkish border at Bab Al-Hawa has been in effect since 2014
  • Nearly 10,000 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid passed through Bab Al-Hawa last year

UNITED NATIONS, US: The United Nations Security Council votes Thursday on extending its authorization of aid transfers across Syria’s border without approval from Damascus, with Russia seeking a six-month prolongation while Western nations want a full year.
The UN resolution permitting aid deliveries across the Syrian-Turkish border at Bab Al-Hawa has been in effect since 2014, but is set to expire on Sunday.
Norway and Ireland, two non-permanent members of the 15-country Security Council, have drafted a resolution that would extend the authorization until July 10, 2023.
Nearly 10,000 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid passed through Bab Al-Hawa last year, bound for the rebel-held Idlib region in northwestern Syria. It is the only crossing through which aid can be brought into Idlib without navigating areas controlled by Syrian government forces.
The resolution, which was obtained by AFP, calls on “all parties to ensure full, safe and unhindered access by all modalities, including cross-line, for deliveries of humanitarian assistance to all parts of Syria.”
Russia, a veto-holding Security Council member and ally of Damascus, has hinted in recent months that it would oppose an extension, having already forced a reduction in the number of allowed border crossings on the grounds that it violates Syria’s sovereignty.
According to diplomats, Russia ultimately put its own draft resolution on the table, which includes an extension of six months.
In an attempt to persuade Moscow, Norway and Ireland have inserted several amendments touching on the transparency of humanitarian shipments, possible contributions to Syria’s reconstruction, and on the need to develop aid deliveries via government-controlled territory.
Russia has long called for the West to participate in Syria’s reconstruction, but some council members, most vocally France, have refused until political reforms have been enacted.
However, during a Security Council meeting in June, a majority of countries — including the United States — offered support for financing so-called “early recovery projects” in Syria.
In this vein, the resolution by Norway and Ireland calls for “further international initiatives to broaden the humanitarian activities in Syria, including water, sanitation, health, education, and shelter early recovery projects.”
By Wednesday evening, few diplomats dared to predict whether the additions would be enough to convince Russia to agree to a full-year extension.
But some told AFP that a last-minute compromise was possible, by making the six-month extension renewable for an additional six months practically by default.


Sudan protesters take to the barricades again

Updated 07 July 2022

Sudan protesters take to the barricades again

JEDDAH: Protesters in Sudan took to makeshift street barricades of rocks and tires for a seventh day on Wednesday as military leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan fired the last civilian members of the country’s ruling council.

Burhan, who seized power in a coup last October, has vowed to “make room” for civilian groups to form a new transitional government after he disbanded the ruling Sovereign Council, which he chairs. The council’s members said they had received no formal notification and were surprised to discover that their official vehicles had been taken away.

Protesters have demanded a restoration of the transition to civilian rule despite repeated crackdowns by the security forces, who have in recent days fired live bullets, launched barrages of tear gas canisters and deployed water cannons. At least 114 people have been killed in the crackdown since October.

The transitional government uprooted by Burhan last year had been forged between the military and civilian factions in 2019, following mass protests that prompted the army to oust dictator Omar Bashir.

Sudan’s main civilian alliance, the Forces for Freedom and Change, said Burhan’s latest move was a “giant ruse” and “tactical retreat.” They also called for “continued public pressure,” and protesters returned to the streets of Khartoum on Wednesday.

Democracy campaigners say the army chief has made such moves before. In November, a month after the coup, Burhan signed a deal with Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister he had ousted in the power grab and put under house arrest, returning him to power.

But many people rejected that pact and took to the streets again, and Hamdok resigned in January warning that Sudan was “crossing a dangerous turning point that threatens its whole survival.”

United Arab Emirates cuts red tape to attract digital businesses

Updated 06 July 2022

United Arab Emirates cuts red tape to attract digital businesses

  • UAE aims to make it easier for digital companies to incorporate
  • Sets a target for 300 digital companies to incorporate within a year

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates is cutting red tape to make it easier and quicker for digital companies to incorporate, the latest economic policy announcement as the government seeks to further diversify the economy away from oil revenues.

Trade minister Thani Al Zeyoudi, flanked by executives from many state-linked entities, on Wednesday announced the changes that include better access to the financial and banking system.

“We want to show digitally enabled companies from Europe, Asia, the Americas, that the UAE is the world’s best place to live, work, invest and scale,” the minister told reporters, setting a target for 300 digital companies to incorporate within a year.

Those setting up in the UAE, home to financial center Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, would have visas issued sooner and be offered attractive commercial and residential leases, he said.

As other governments step up national efforts to increase renewable energy sources and move away from fossil fuels, the UAE is rolling out a series of initiatives to double the economy to $816 billion by 2030.

“We want to show that we are here to help; from commercial licenses and work visas, to opening bank accounts, finding office space and the perfect place to live,” Al Zeyoudi said.

United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi gestures during an interview with Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 30, 2022. (REUTERS)

Some company executives complain about the bureaucracy involved in setting up a business, including in hiring international staff in a country where citizens are a minority.

Still, the UAE’s Dubai has established itself as the region’s premier business hub and is already home to many multinational corporations and international businesses.

But regional competition has intensified as Saudi Arabia takes steps to re-mold itself as a leading financial and tourism center under the leadership of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We’re moving from a regional hub to a global hub,” Al Zeyoudi said. “We’re competing with the big, big boys now.”

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

Updated 06 July 2022

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

  • Army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition

CAIRO: Sudan’s military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan issued a decree relieving the five civilian members of the sovereign council from their duties, a statement on the council’s telegram account said on Wednesday.
Burhan said on Monday the army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition, and urged political and revolutionary groups to start talks to form a transitional government.

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank arrest raid

Updated 07 July 2022

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank arrest raid

  • At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank

JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH: The Israeli military said it shot and killed a Palestinian man during an arrest raid near the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday.
The army said that during one of a series of raids carried out across the Palestinian territory, its troops fired at a suspect who attempted to escape arrest in the village of Jaba.
“The force gave medical treatment to the suspect, but later pronounced him dead,” the army said. It said the incident was under investigation.
The Israeli military said its forces were conducting counter-terrorism operations across the West Bank and had arrested 24 suspects.
“I heard Israeli forces shouting at a man, asking him to stop before I heard eight shots fired,” said a Palestinian Jaba resident, who asked not to be identified.
The Palestinian Health Ministry issued a statement saying it received confirmation of the death of Rafiq Riyad Ghannam from the agency that coordinates affairs with Israel. Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, said the 20-year-old man was severely wounded during clashes in the village.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said that Israel was “preceding President Biden’s visit by more field executions and escalation of aggression against the Palestinian people.”
Biden is expected to meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders before he heads to Saudi Arabia on his July 13-16 trip.
Ghannam was the second Palestinian from Jaba killed in recent days. On Sunday the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said 19-year-old Kamel Abdallah Alwaneh died a day after he was shot by Israeli troops. The army said soldiers came under attack “during routine security activity near the town of Jaba” and shot a man suspected of throwing a firebomb.
The Israeli military has carried out near-daily raids in Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank following a series of deadly attacks by Palestinians earlier this year that killed 19 Israelis, with several of the attackers coming from the Jenin area.
Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in these Israeli army raids. Most of the dead were alleged to have opened fire on Israeli forces or hurled stones or firebombs at them. The dead also include at least two apparent passersby.
Palestinians were also angered this week by the results of a US investigation into the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who had been shot during an Israeli raid in Jenin last month.
The US State Department said on Monday Abu Akleh was likely killed by Israeli gunfire which was probably unintentional. The Palestinian investigation concluded she was shot deliberately, an allegation that Israel denies.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and the Palestinians seek it as the heartland of a future state. Israel considers the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.
Almost half a million Israeli settlers live in dozens of West Bank settlements scattered across the territory, alongside around 3 million Palestinians who live under Israeli military rule.
The Palestinians and much of the international community consider Israel’s West Bank settlements a violation of international law and an obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict.
(With AP and Reuters)